Sexual harassment training to be mandatory for city employees

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Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) | Al Podgorski/ Sun-Times Media

Sexual harassment training would be mandatory for all city employees — including aldermen and citywide elected officials — under a plan advanced Thursday to clarify what the chief sponsor called “gray areas.”

Sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein have prompted a #MeToo avalanche of allegations against men in the entertainment, media and restaurant industries, and politics, too.

On Thursday, the #MeToo campaign made another stop at City Hall.

At the behest of Ald. Marge Laurino (39th), the City Council’s president pro tem, the Workforce Development Committee approved an ordinance that would make annual sexual harassment training mandatory for all municipal employees, including the mayor, city clerk, city treasurer and 50 aldermen.

The annual training would be conducted online as part of the city’s ethics training. The content would be developed by the city’s Department of Human Resources.

In-person sexual harassment training would be required every four years for veteran city employees and within 120 days of employment for newly-hired workers.

After the vote Laurino was asked to define what she meant by “gray areas.”

“There may be some conversations between parties that might be considered, from one person’s perspective, as being sort of sexual harassment but not interpreted by the other party,” Laurino said.

Asked what advice she would pass along to city workers, she said, “If you wouldn’t say it to a man, don’t say it to a woman.”

The ordinance advanced Thursday marks the second time in a month that the City Council has responded to the wave of sexual harassment allegations sweeping the nation.

Last month, aldermen agreed to hold themselves and Chicago’s three citywide elected officials accountable if they sexually harass their staffs, and gave citywide victims of sexual harassment and bullying a new tool to protect themselves.

The Illinois General Assembly has come under fire for allowing the job of legislative inspector general to remain vacant for two years, leaving 27 pending complaints to languish.

Unlike Springfield, the City Council has no such backlog. Laurino said she’s determined to keep it that way.

Asked how big problem sexual harassment might be at City Hall, Laurino said, “I certainly haven’t heard of anything. We could probably go back to some of the [racist and sexist email] issues in the Water Department, but that’s the only thing that I would be familiar with.”

Pressed on whether she had ever been sexually harassed, Laurino never answered the question directly. She would only say, “This is something in solidarity with the women across the nation.”

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